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Sean Eldridge Faces Tough Race in NY-19

Sean Eldridge Faces Tough Race in NY-19

By Scott Conroy - September 24, 2013

Though rooting for opposite outcomes in the high-profile race to represent New York's 19th Congressional District, Democrats and Republicans share one sentiment: Both are excited that Sean Eldridge is in.

On Sunday night, the 27-year-old husband of Facebook co-founder and New Republic owner Chris Hughes (pictured, left, with Eldridge) officially announced his long-expected bid to take on incumbent GOP Rep. Chris Gibson.

“Instead of looking out for Wall Street and big oil, we need Washington to help our small businesses and our family farms,” he said in a slickly produced YouTube video that featured bucolic scenes of his newly adopted district and its residents. “I have been very blessed in my life. I am proud to live in the greatest state in the greatest country on earth. I’m running for Congress because I know we can do better.”

Despite enjoying abundant resources heading into the race, Eldridge’s attempt to unseat Gibson -- a moderate Republican and skilled campaigner who was first elected in 2010 -- will be somewhat of an uphill climb.

After being redistricted, Gibson won last fall by six points -- in a year when President Obama also carried NY-19 by six points.

Still, for fellow Democrats, Eldridge’s candidacy provides reason to hope that a heavy investment will pay dividends.

A wealthy financier in his own right, Eldridge has been funding small businesses in the Hudson Valley region for the last two years. He also enjoys extensive relationships with top-tier Democratic donors in New York City and Silicon Valley.

And as a senior adviser and spokesperson for Freedom to Marry -- a group that led the successful fight to legalize same-sex marriage in New York -- Eldridge cut his teeth in the grassroots style of campaigning needed to succeed in the largely rural district, while earning media experience as a public face of the group.

Bolstered by his progressive credentials in the swing district, Democrats see NY-19 as a prime pickup opportunity in 2014.

In a region where the national GOP has in recent years become increasingly imperiled, Democrats will aim to portray Gibson as being in lockstep with the Republican congressional leadership, given his repeated attempts to defund the national health care law, most recently via last week’s vote in favor of the Continuing Resolution.

The Republican-led House’s reluctance to take up the immigration reform bill that passed the Senate also figures to be among the issues Democrats will aim to exploit in the farming-heavy district.

“Congressman Chris Gibson can’t run away from his disastrous tenure or his failed record for the middle class any longer,” said Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spokesperson Marc Brumer. “Hudson Valley voters are tired of his out-of-touch, obstructionist agenda that has stifled job growth and hurt the local economy.”

Though Republicans spent much of the summer trying to discredit Eldridge and make him think twice about entering the race, now that he is in, they are champing at the bit to attack the Canada-born, Ohio-raised Democrat.

In July, he was the subject of an unflattering profile in The New York Times, which raised pointed questions about the concurrence of his emerging political ambitions and his January move into a $2 million home in the small hamlet of Shokan.

That change in address came after Eldridge and Hughes had purchased a $5 million home in 2011 in a different New York congressional district -- one where the political winds subsequently appeared to become less hospitable. The couple also owns a loft apartment in Manhattan.

Republicans are already salivating at the chance to bolster perceptions of Eldridge as a district-shopping rich kid whose congressional campaign is little more than a vanity project.

“He’s a 27-year-old carpet-bagging multimillionaire who’s a good friend of Nancy Pelosi and wants to hang out with her at swank D.C. cocktail parties with a little pin that says ‘Member of Congress,’ ” said New York GOP communications director David Laska. “I’m 26. I would never have the gall to tell anybody that I should represent them in Congress.”

Republicans intend to highlight a stature gap between the fresh-faced Eldridge and Gibson -- a retired decorated Army combat veteran who served in the Gulf War, Kosovo, and Iraq War.

As part of his campaign website’s relaunch, Gibson recently appeared in a 60-second ad in which images of the candidate, in uniform, are juxtaposed with a steady stream of American flags.

Gibson has thus far been restrained in attacking Eldridge directly, but his campaign is already firing shots across the opponent’s bow.

“If you look at this race, it’s really going to test the hypothesis of whether or not a congressional seat can be bought,” Gibson spokesperson Stephanie Valle said of Eldridge. “We certainly don’t have the expectation that we’re going to be able to match the millions of dollars that Mr. Eldridge will be able to put in the race, but we’re confident we’ll have the funds necessary to win.”

In addition to his financial resources, Eldridge is also set to benefit from the support of popular Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who reportedly chats regularly with the young congressional hopeful and intends to back him in the race.

Cuomo will be on the top of the ballot next year in New York and is expected to cruise to re-election. 

Scott Conroy is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. He can be reached at sconroy@realclearpolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter @RealClearScott.

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